Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Only One Way’

Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion (Review)

May 20, 2019 2 comments

From my recent reading, here is an interesting read:  Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion.  A collection of seven essays from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, specifically from the 2005 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, the theme of One way covers many Christian teachings, and how Christianity is the One Way:  one among many, one Gospel, one God, one Savior, one Truth, one Way and one People.

As expected from this type of book, the contributions present the different styles and interests of the writers – many well-known and somewhat-known names, with some chapters having more interest (to the reader).  I was familiar with at least the names of most of the scholars, some more well-known such as Al Mohler, D.A. Carson, and J. Ligon Duncan, and other names known from other conference lectures and/or teaching programs available from the Alliance.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters from David F. Wells (One Among Many), Peter Jones (One God), and One Truth (Philip Ryken).  I have previously mentioned Peter Jones from his 2018 PCRT lectures and Ryken in reference to Thomas Boston and a study on the book of Ecclesiastes.  I had not heard or read David Wells before, but found his study on Acts 17 (Paul at Athens and Mars Hill) and post-modernism quite edifying.  Richard D. Phillips’ chapter on One Savior is another good one, which points out that one Savior is indeed sufficient, just as water from only one spring to a man dying of thirst and only one blood-marrow donor match to a man dying of cancer, are sufficient.

Post-modernism, especially the emerging church, was a big online discussion topic back in the mid-2000s, more so than now, and familiarity with the issues of that time provides greater appreciation of some things mentioned in these chapters.  When David Wells noted that “Some evangelicals have tried to see in Luke’s account [Paul in Athens, Acts 17] an example of how Paul was able to exploit the culture for the sake of the gospel. What they mean is that he was able to capitalize on their cultural habits in order to ‘sell’ the gospel,” we can well recall a particular controversial figure at a mega-church in Seattle during that time, and appreciate Wells’ response, “They could not be more wrong! What we see is Paul confronting his culture, not trying to use it. This is evident from the fact that he starts not with the gospel itself but with that culture’s competing worldviews—each one of which he demolishes.”

An important point brought out by Wells, is the necessity to start with the understanding of the Christian God, even more so than the gospel as a starting point:

The gospel, after all, is not a disembodied message that can be assimilated into just any worldview. Rather, it comes within its own understanding of the world, outside of which the gospel makes no sense at all. It is true that, without believing the gospel, Paul’s hearers [in Acts 17, Paul at Athens] would not know the God from whom they were alienated because of their sin and because of God’s righteous indignation against that sin. It is also the case, however, that without an understanding of God as Creator and Judge, Paul’s hearers could not understand the gospel. It is to the Christian God that Paul takes his hearers first, and he takes them there before he takes them to the gospel.

Peter Jones’ chapter, One God, addressed the familiar subject from the more recent conference (previous post referenced above), with emphasis on the pagan, polytheistic challenge.  He includes many references (with footnotes) to recently published pagan-promoting books and pagan-influence events in the public sphere, observing that:

Ideas have consequences.  One generation after the publication of The New Polytheism, we saw the publication of Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach … which describes the unraveling of single-minded, monotheistic thinking in our society.  We now have two kinds of marriage—straight and gay—and acceptance of a third arrangement—polygamy—cannot be far behind.  Polytheism immediately gives us polysexuality.  In similar ways, polytheistic thinking is extending its influence in every category of human life. …Many Christians will be surprised to learn that the chief doctrinal attack in our time is directed not against the inspiration of Scripture or the deity of Christ, but against the doctrine of God.  The very denial of God is one of the chief obstacles to our preaching the gospel today.

Phillip Ryken’s chapter on “One Truth” also includes great points and great quotes regarding propositional truth.  Starting from John 18:37-38, which contains Pontius Pilate’s famous response to Jesus, “What is truth?” and the challenge of post-modernism and relativist instead of absolute truth, Ryken notes the limitation of looking only at the story, an incomplete picture of reality.  Post-modernism focuses on the story, on the narrative, but we do not get the complete picture of the gospel solely from the narrative accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As the introduction to the book of Acts notes, the New Testament work was only begun by Jesus during His earthly ministry.  It was also necessary for the apostles to continue the work, to write the many epistles that provide the interpretation behind the narrative events and present the propositional truths of doctrinal teaching.

In order for the gospel to have this transforming effect, it needs to be explained. Stories are not self-interpreting. Therefore, God has given us a true theology to explain the gospel story. The Gospels are followed by long doctrinal letters that teach basic truths about God and his salvation, and it is characteristic of these letters to give us truth in the form of propositions. As Luther said, ‘There is no Christianity where there are no assertions.’ …. The Bible is full of theological propositions—unchanging truths of the Christian faith.

Also from Only One Way, this well-expressed summary regarding the gospel and doctrine:

Today we often hear that creeds and confessions are outmoded. Rather than defining the Christian faith in terms of its theology, people say, we need to define it in terms of its story. Doctrine is de-emphasized, especially if it deals with difficult or intolerant subjects like sin, judgment, wrath, and atonement through a sacrifice of blood. … But of course this is a false dichotomy. The gospel is relational, because it establishes a reconciled relationship between fallen sinners and a holy God. However, the gospel cannot be relational unless it also gives us true information about God and about us—about Jesus, the cross, and the empty tomb.

These seven chapters in Only One Way are insightful, well-written for the Christian layperson, presenting many good points from scripture along with analysis of our relativist, post-modern and in many ways post-Christian society.  At just under 150 pages, it is not lengthy reading, yet packs in a lot of good content in this relatively short book.